Failing that class was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

36%. That was my grade going into the final exam. Not even a perfect score was enough to pass the course.

And so I went to the professor to beg.

“No.”

But if I fail, I won’t have the prerequisite for all of the classes I am supposed to take next semester!

“No.”

But then I’ll have to take the semester off!

“No.”

But then I’ll have to take an EXTRA YEAR!

“No.”

What will I tell my friends and family?

Welcome to the 5-year plan.

I took the next semester off and repeated that single course, with the same professor. Awesome. I was furious. How could he do this to me!? Did he have any idea what he cost me? A year of my life and thousands of dollars! I’m paying those student loans right now.

Except:

The internship that I worked while I repeated that course was my first: it set me up for a successful career by teaching me professionalism, time management, balance, punctuality, personal finance, leadership.

I met one of my dearest friends working there.

Taking that semester off aligned my schedule with Justin, who became my best friend. We took every class for the rest of college together, supporting each other and encouraging each other to learn as much as we could. We also had a lot of fun and took turns as best man in each other’s weddings.

This also aligned my schedule with my roommate Chris. About a year later,

Chris introduced me to my wife!

I can keep pulling at this thread: the extra summer gave me an extra internship, which aligned me with the start of a new research project, which led to my senior design project, which led to grad school, and my career as a professor…

The consequences of failing that class? A job I love, a best friend, a wife who loves me for me, my son. I can live with that.

Every class I teach requires the class that I failed as a prerequisite!

Apart from the amazing coincidences (I don’t believe in those, theres a Plan), I learned something important. I learned what it takes to do college right. And I did it. I earned an A in that class and solidified my approach to learning.

Failure isn’t the end.

So don’t give up. Learn what works and what doesn’t, hustle, and try again! I had no idea at the time, but so much of my life can be traced back to that professor and the word,

“No.”

If you’d like to see me talk about this, head over to YouTube:

https://youtu.be/HGgSXzCcnzU

This is a 12-minute recording of a lecture I gave on the last day of class this semester. If you’re new here, then this is the best possible way for you to get to know me. If you’ve been watching for a while, then I want you to know that I am more proud of this video than anything I’ve ever posted. Take a look and let me know what you think!

Is this going to be on the exam?

When a student asks me, “is this going to be on the test?” I feel a twinge of sadness. Sadness that we’ve put students in a place where they have to be so worried about grades. Sadness that students who ask this question are missing the point entirely. And so I join my fellow faculty and repeat the mantra: “focus on learning the material, not just studying to pass a test.”

Experimental Design

There’s a concept called “Experimental Design” that applies here. No, it’s not just for people who study the physical sciences. In fact, the best example can be seen by watching political elections. On the last presidential election night, the polls began reporting district results after counting as little as 5% of the votes!

No, they weren’t playing wishful thinking games. They weren’t tossing out votes to rig the election. They were employing Experimental Design: when you truly understand a system, you can determine its response to a new stimulus using surprisingly few measurements.

What does a college exam do?

First, the point of every class you take: to teach you a new mindset, and new big-picture that changes the way you approach the world. The goal isn’t to fill your head with trivia, or to teach you to apply these new concepts to a few specific systems or arenas.

A well-written exam is like a policitcal poll: measure 5% to determine the overall outcome. By asking the right questions, the exam can measure the degree to which you’ve mastered the big picture mindset that this course offers.

Ok, but is this this going to be on the test?

Yes. It will be on a test that matters someday. Maybe not the written exam that earns you a grade, but maybe next semester when this concept is the foundation of another question. Maybe 10 years from now when you’re in a meeting with a client who needs a response on their idea immediately.

Your job in college isn’t to get good grades on exams. It’s to learn new mindsets that enable you to add value to the world.

The Intentional Academy is here to help. We’re creating content that helps you focus on improving your marketable skills. If it’s helping, let us know by leaving a comment and hitting those “like” and “share” buttons!

Opening Doors

“I am an Intentional Learner. I may not know my dream yet, but I know where my current path leads. I am not burying my head in the sand, hoping that if I follow the herd good things will happen. I embrace the future I see for myself, but I hold it loosely. I am in the business of opening doors.”

The pressure to find and pursue a dream has gotten out of hand. Everyone loves to remind students about their “amazing opportunities.” We love to tell students “they can be anything,” and that “they shouldn’t squander their chances.”

Great points, and true. But it’s pretty hard to identify a dream worth going all-in on. Right now, can you name a thing you hope to do for the rest of your career? I can’t, and I am (statistically) a quarter of the way through mine.

The wrong response:

Throwing up your hands at the pressure to decide and just picking something based on what “they” say. “They” say that it’s hard to make a living as a math major. “They” say that engineering pays great and that an MBA will make you a success. “They” say that studying film is risky.

We live in unconventional times.

So stop following conventional wisdom. It’s pretty easy to pick a major actually. Open up a search engine and find out what people who have these degrees are up to 5 and 10 years after graduation. Can you see yourself doing that?

Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. You’re not deciding the rest of your life. Just the next part of it.

I always had a plan.

It never worked out. Every time, something much better came along. What I realize, looking back, is that my plans were what led to my success. Working towards something inevitably opened the doors I ultimately walked through.

So. Open lots of doors.

Try things. Make a plan, and work hard towards it. When you make a decision, do some research about where it COULD take you, but realize that “could” and “will” aren’t the same. Most importantly, be open to changing your plan in a heartbeat.

The Intentional Academy is here to help. We’re creating content that helps you take action and open as many doors as possible. If it’s helping, let us know by leaving a comment and hitting those “like” and “share” buttons!

Punching the Clock

“I am an Intentional Learner. I affirm that my ability to breathe does not entitle me to an income. My ability to create something that changes a person’s life leads to payment proportional to the impact. I am not paid by the hour, I am paid by the outcome.”

One of the greatest inventions of all time is the assembly line. Prior to its invention, products were made by skilled craftsmen and artisans. Every product was custom. Every product was (relatively) expensive.

The industrial revolution brought about a new paradigm that trained people in one process, one step in producing a product. A person can do a repetitive task quickly, with much lower error rates. The result is that things became less expensive to produce. While people remain skilled, few know the entire process. The goal is replaceable parts in a system: no product relies on a single person showing up today.

You’ve worked in a factory

Ever have a job that involved clocking in and doing the same few tasks over and over? Ever have a job that, after a few weeks of training, you knew what to do in most situations? Maybe you worked as a bag boy in s grocery store, or a cashier in a book store, or changing oil at a service station, or in the kitchen of the dining hall, or in an actual factory (all jobs I’ve had). All jobs that, once you learn the basics, required no further instructions and no real decision making on your part.

Did they go out of business when you left?

Of course not. You were a cog. An easily trained and easily replaced part of a big machine that was rigorously designed to eliminate waste and produce a product as efficiently as possible.

The problem is the lesson you learned.

In a job like that, you learn to do as your told. Follow the standard work procedure. Stay in your lane. Clock in, check the list, clock out.

Our world is changing.

We’re finding ourselves in need of artisans again. There is room now for you to work without instructions, to create something that impacts.

But you can’t do it with the “clock-puncher” mindset. And so the cry of the Intentional Learner: “My goal is to learn to add value, to create impact, and to expect payment in response. I don’t get paid for showing up, I get paid for delivering.”

The Intentional Academy is here to help. We’re creating content that helps you rethink your approach to work. If it’s helping, let us know by leaving a comment and hitting those “like” and “share” buttons!

36,500 Days and $2 million

“I am an Intentional Learner. I own my time and my money. I realize that both are finite and I decide how I spend them. I do not allow either to limit my future.”

Time and money feel infinite. When we misuse them, it’s easy to say things like “there’s always tomorrow to get that done,” or “there’s always next week’s paycheck.” Time and money feel like rivers we can dip into when we need more. Which is only partly true.

“You’re going to die.” – Gary Vaynerchuk

Money is finite. Spend it wisely.

Let’s work an example. Pretend you earn the national average income over your career. That’s $50,000 per year. The average working lifetime is about 40 years which means your job will produce a total of $2 million. You get to spend $2 million over your life and then you’re out.

Except for interest.

You can turn that $2 million into more if you invest it. Great. Maybe you’ll even reach a point where the interest from your investments replaces the $50,000 (you’d need about $800,000 invested at 6%). Sweet place to be, your money now works harder than you do!

But $800,000 is a sizable portion of your total lifetime income. So is sending your kid to college and paying off your student loans and buying a house. Are you SURE you want to pay interest on that $40,000 sports car loan?

It’s not about the numbers. You could always increase your income, but you’d find ways to scale the outflow as well.

Time is even more finite.

There is no investment that earns interest to buy you more time. If you live to be 100 years old, you’ll have 36,500 days. 5,200 weekends. 100 Thanksgiving Holidays.

What are you doing today? 36,499. How about tomorrow? 36,498.

Is every day going to be the best day of your life? Hardly. But if most days aren’t good, what are you waiting for? Change!

  • If you’re in school, enjoy the fact that these are the only 1,460 days where it’s OK to not know everything. Find something to be curious about and study it because you want to, not because you’re required to earn a grade.
  • If you’re working, spend those precious days doing what matters to you. Take care of providing for your family. Invest, but also play.

I can’t tell you what matters. That’s for you to decide. But don’t spend your precious time and money reacting to everyone else’s agenda. Spend them on things that matter.

The Intentional Academy is here to help. We’re asking questions that will guide you to finding what matters and achieving it. We’re sharing tactics that will buy you more freedom to spend your time and money the way that you feel is most important. If it’s helping, let us know by leaving a comment and hitting those “like” and “share” buttons!

Participation Trophy

“I am an Intentional Learner. I believe that my life is my fault. I may have started from a different point than everyone else. My path may be easier or harder than everyone else’s. But I will not let my past dictate my future. I have the power to act and succeed, or to do nothing and fail.”

We’re obsessed with “fair.” And we should be. Any system that disproportionately favors one group over another is doomed to strife.

But.

“Fair” doesn’t mean “same.” We wish it did, because “same” is easy. Everyone gets the same trophy, regardless of whether they win or not. That’s “same.” But is it fair? What if one team sits at home eating potato chips and playing video games while the other is eating veggies and putting in hours of exercise and practice? Do they deserve the same reward?

“Fair” is insisting that both teams follow the same rules, and then giving the winners the trophy. “Same” isn’t “fair.”

That’s just a game.

In real life, we try to give everyone the same opportunity. We feel a sense of injustice when the current rules, or the results of past rules now defunct, make it harder for some to succeed than others.

I’m very thankful for the statesmen who are trying to figure this out.

But it won’t do much for you.

Your life is happening. Right now. You can look at the deck that’s stacked against you and complain that your starting point is different than everyone else’s. You can mistake “same” for “fair.” And you’ll end up fighting that battle your entire life. You can sit on your hands, doing nothing and fighting for “fairness.”

Or.

You can take charge. You can realize that in some room on Earth, YOU are the privileged one with the advantage. You can decide that even if it’s harder for you, you’re going to reach out and grab your dream.

And when you reach it, and you stand among others who made it, you’ll know the score. You’ll have the power to make the path easier for those who follow in your footsteps.

The Intentional Academy is here to help you overcome the odds. We’re posting content daily to guide your growth. If it’s helping, let us know by leaving a comment and hitting those “like” and “share” buttons!

Mind the Gap

“I am an Intentional Learner. I see a gap between what I learn in school and what I need to succeed. I don’t wait for the system to fix itself, I leverage its strengths and overcome its weaknesses.”

To succeed, you’ll need to develop skills in two categories: technical and professional.

Technical skills are those required to do a specific job:

CPA’s need to know how to run spreadsheets and navigate tax laws, engineers need to know how to predict the behavior of a system using the laws of physics.

Professional skills are those required to do ANY job:

Whether you’re a bar tender or a lawyer, you need to show up for work on time, with energy and focus, and know how to talk with people from a wide range of backgrounds.

Leveraging Strengths

  • You will never be surrounded by as many technical subject matter experts as when you’re in school. They come to work every day hoping to help someone grow; give theme the opportunity by showing up for class and office hours.
  • The community of like-minded and motivated students is your most important asset. Jim Rohn tells us that we are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. In college, you have the chance to spend a lot of time with excellent people. Plug in!

Overcoming Weaknesses

  • Colleges focus on teaching technical skills. Sure, we force students to take general ed courses to complete their liberal education (look it up, it has nothing to do with politics). But these courses have been de-emphasized in students’ minds: the typical attitude is that they are a waste of time and should be given as little effort as possible. Be different by finding value in these courses.
  • Colleges expect students to be adept at many professional skills but offer no formal instruction. Did you take a class called “Time Management and Productivity”? Seek out training and mentorship in all of the professional skills areas that you can.

The Intentional Academy is here to help you bridge this gap. We’re posting content daily to guide your growth. If it’s helping, let us know by leaving a comment and hitting those “like” and “share” buttons!

Thrashing

Have you ever worked on a big project? Maybe for school? Maybe for work? Even binge-watching an entire TV series counts. When I finish a project, I have two strong feelings: (1) accomplishment at having completed a long-term effort, (2) “what’s next!?”

There’s a quote about “rolling stones” and “moss,” but you get the point: I can’t sit still long. When a project ends, I feel the void of accomplishment. The accomplishment tastes sweet, but I’m always looking for the next thing to dig into.

So what to do? Thrash.

We’re hyper-concerned with only trying things that we know will work. Ever get in the car to drive somewhere that you’re “pretty sure you know the way”? Did you put the GPS on just in case? What would have happened if you were off by 5 minutes?

There’s No GPS. We’re Thrashing.

Have you noticed that my posts over the last few weeks look like a brain dump of new project ideas? We’re looking for the next great way to get you the content you need to continue your Intentional Journey.

Have you noticed the change in pronouns?

From “I” and “my” to “we” and “our”? This idea is bigger than me. There’s a Team now. That team is thrashing. “How do we work together?” “What are our roles?” “What kind of content should we focus on?”

Documenting.

We’re committed to documenting our experience. We want to show you what Intentional Learning is all about. It’s messy, but amazing. We want to show you how we’re starting a business. We’re learning how to do that right now, and you’re invited to join us on that journey.

So stay tuned. If you have thoughts or questions, leave a comment. If this is meaningful to you, help us change the world by hitting those “like” and “share” buttons.

How to Decide the Rest of Your Life, Concluded

We’ve been talking about this for a couple days now. Picking majors, internships, and full-time jobs is scary work. First, take some pressure off. This isn’t the rest of your life, it’s just the next step. Second, get to know yourself. If you base your search on what you can find on the internet, you’ll be looking at about 1/3 of the actual options you have.

To clarify, I’m saying 1/3 of job postings are online. There are MANY discussion forums dedicated to exploring the entire field. Use them!

Ok, but how do you get started?

One of my all-time favorite books is “48 Days to the Work You Love,” by Dan Miller. (no, this isn’t a paid add). Put simply, he helped me reflect on three key areas when deciding my next step:

  1. Skills and Abilities: If you’ve always been talented at visual arts but struggled with math, then majoring in accounting may be a bad fit.
  2. Personality Traits: If you prefer working with people, then data processing may not be the best way to spend a summer internship.
  3. Values, Dreams, and Passions: If you don’t believe in weapons, you shouldn’t consider an engineering position with an arms manufacturer.

Switching these statements to the positive is more difficult, and personal.

What’s a good fit for a person with artistic talent who’s introverted and values animal rights? How about a mathematical genius who loves to work with people and can’t stand the thought of a cubicle?

Start shopping. You don’t know what’s out there. In “48 Days to the Work You Love,” Dan Miller shows that over 70% of current job openings are NOT listed on the Internet. That’s why they call it a “hunt.” It takes a long time to find a path that aligns with your Skills, Abilities, Personality Traits, Values, Dreams, and Passions. Expect to spend at least 6 month’s wrestling with this.

That’s not code for “put it off.” Actually wrestle.

It takes one month per $10,000 of annual salary to find a job. If you want to make the average for college grads ($50,000/year), expect to spend five months ACTIVELY looking. [1]

The worst place to go for advice: your loser friends who complain that they aren’t finding anything. Even your successful friends who do find something. They’re in the same boat you are. You need a guide not a partner.

Better places to turn:

  • career centers
  • alumni associations
  • discussion forums
  • faculty.

You have so many resources available! Put them to good use, give yourself the time to explore, and you’ll be the only one of your friends who feels confident in their decision.

Success? Struggle? Question? Leave a comment!

[1] https://www.thebalance.com/how-long-does-it-take-to-find-a-job-2064245

No, Really. This is How to Decide the Rest of Your Life.

Yesterday I shared some important statistics that should have helped reduce the pressure you’re putting on yourself over the big decisions: what major? Where to intern? Where to work after you graduate? If you’re in school right now, you were likely raised by the “company man” generation: go to work for the same company for your entire career.

Those days are gone.

Ok. Pressure off. But how do you decide!?

Most importantly, don’t start where everyone else does: by asking what’s available.

When you start a search for a field of study, an internship, or a job, it can be tempting to rush to the internet and start looking for options. This is a terrible idea!!

What percentage of retail sales took place via the internet last year? Less than ten. Are you shocked? We’re surrounded by the internet, but that immersion is creating a false sense of reality. Don’t let that lens blind you as you plan your life.

A recent study showed that over 70% of the open jobs in this country are NOT listed online.

This means that if you search for openings as a way to decide what you want to become, you’re focused on 30% of the options out there. Not great.Don’t believe me? Try this: I spent a decade dreaming of becoming a university professor. I took extra classes in grad school to earn the “Future Professor” certificate, which included a survey of academic jobs presented by the highest level administrator in the graduate school. I didn’t just study the business I wanted to be in; I studied how to study the business I wanted to be in.Yet, I didn’t know the type of position that I currently hold existed until the month I accepted the job offer. Ten years of hunting and I landed a dream job I’d never heard of. Do you think you know your industry better?

What to do instead? Know yourself.

As I searched, I spent a lot of time reflecting. Looking back, I KNEW that my current position was my dream, even though I didn’t know it existed. Which made it pretty easy to decide on when I finally found it.

Tomorrow I’ll give details on how you can do the same.

Did this add value to your life? Consider sharing with someone else who may need it. Questions? Thoughts? Disagree? Leave a comment!